This year, now that Mercedes-Benz has wrested distribution in the States back from Penske - yes, Smart is a division of Mercedes-Benz, people - I spent two glorious weeks with the Smart, twice as long as most tests. I even took it on a trip to New York City just to serve you, the readers of Driver's Seat.
So let's check into the Smart's retro-ocity.
Times back then were . . . bumpy: The tiny Smart, with McPherson struts up front and Dedion coil springs behind, bulldozes potholes, causing Mr. Driver's Seat to resort to several bad words. Fortunately, there's not much room for Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 4.0 to hear such language all at once.
Life had a slower pace: My old VW Beetle never won any speed records. The same goes for the Smart, which clocks in at 12.8 seconds for 0 to 60.
Driving wasn't effortless: The Smart's 5-speed automated manual brings back something akin to the infamous Volkswagen autostick. There's no clutch. Drivers shift through the gears, and even in automatic mode need to let off the gas to cause gear changes. Otherwise, there's the embarrassing delay while, perhaps, the tiny Smart gerbils respool the thread to cause something akin to acceleration.
Our behinds hurt: Immediately upon sitting, 20-year-old Sturgis Kid 1.0 blurted out, "What are these seats made of? Wood?" She may be more delicate than I, but I'll admit the seats are fairly firm.
The engine was behind you: At least in the classic air-cooled Volkswagens. And so it is in the Smart.
Small and . . . fun? Um, well, a little. It's cute, and some people smile at you. Seventeen-year-old Sturgis Kid 3.0 (female) was drawn in by the cuteness.
But the Smart doesn't feel exceptionally lively on the twisty roads of Chester County. And the potholes of Philadelphia and Manhattan are very, very deep.
It was fun parking it perpendicular on my front street, though. But I did have to dip into the yard a bit.
Just how fast am I going? I had to check the odometer against the mileposts, because suddenly traffic seemed to be roaring past.
But the speedometer was spot on. And I realized this: No one wants to be passed by a Smart. It does 70, even 80 (though I don't recommend it), but a lot of people see this as a "challenge."
You get bullied a lot driving the tiniest car on the road. This makes me say more bad words.
Smart and nimble? Yes, it was easy to get around in the Smart. But I was surprised that the turning radius was not tighter. I could do a U-turn in my driveway with a 10-foot-long Scion iQ. Not the 8.5-foot Smart.
Friends and stuff: Or should I say, "friend and stuff." Just one extra seat. The cargo space behind is not terrible.
A shelf on the left side kept my cellphone safe and sound, as I was forever leaving it behind.
Loading cargo was a headache, literally. The recline levers are on the inside of the seats, so you have to reach across a seat to tilt the seat forward. Bam. Pass the aspirin. (Though I trust a hatchback would be easier loading than the tiny door under the convertible top.)
Fuel economy: This is where you'd expect little Mr. Smarty Pants to shine. You would be mistaken.
I got my best mileage on the way back from Manhattan, when I skipped the New Jersey Turnpike and headed for the stop-and-go of 202, all the way from Somerville, N.J., to West Chester. There I hit 39 m.p.g.
Otherwise, it was a middling 35. And the Smart prefers premium fuel.
An electric version is available for lease only, though.
Where it's built: Hambach, France (aka "Smartville").
How it's built: Reliability is in the middle, according to Consumer Reports.
In the end: My observed 35 m.p.g. ties a whole slew of cars with a backseat that don't cost much more and don't prefer premium fuel. The advertised $99/month lease sounds attractive, though.
Still, if you really want to stand out on the road, à la Sturgis Kid 3.0, this little baby is the way to do it. If you can live with the downsides of this car, and don't need to be out on the highways, you'll certainly stand out.
Contact Scott Sturgis at 215-854-2558 or firstname.lastname@example.org.